Emily writes: As a child, I had certain places I loved to explore in nature. My most special place was at the top of a willow tree in my parents’ front yard. The branches were hollow in some places, and I would keep my treasures there. The bending leaves made a great fort. I even invented a name for myself. For many summers, I was Leaf Girl. My sister had her own tree and was known as Flower Girl. It is these types of relationship to place that I see happen at LifeWays daily.
For example, a favorite place to play is near the apple tree in the front yard. An older child in the class climbs to the top of the tree and the other children stand beneath the tree, asking him to throw apples down for them. He spends much of his morning surveying the territory from the top of the tree as the younger children try to figure out how to climb up themselves.
Another favorite place we go to is the path next to the river. Every time, Eli says, “This is the way to the pretzel garden.” The children also have a relationship with the creatures that dwell in the river. So far, we have seen turtles, ducks, and geese. In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv discusses the importance of play in green space. Children’s play has been found by studies to be more creative and cooperative in spaces with grass, trees, sticks, and other natural features. So far this year we are beginning to develop our relationship to the woods by going hiking. Soon the leaves will fall, the mosquitoes will disappear, and we will begin to play in the woods.
Usually, in the summer and early fall, visibility is limited by the leaves; so to stay safe we play in the front yard or at a park and hike in the woods. This last summer we had the special experience of a rainstorm that led us to shelter under another special place, the Troll Bridge. The children played under the bridge while the rain fell around us until it started thundering and we had to go back. It is these types of experiences that children need to develop the relationships with nature that lead to creative, cooperative play.
Emily Hall is a caregiver at LifeWays Early Childhood Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.